(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Bad as 2008 may now seem in retrospect, we are daily assured by the “experts” that things will surely only get worse. But not everything in the past year went all to hell. In music, at least, there were some bright spots and even a few inspiring moments. Here are some of my favorite things from 2008:
• Taylor Swift‘s songwriting progress and her career acumen. Pay close attention to her, boys and girls. This is one very smart and talented young woman. She will leave you in the dust.
• Kenny Chesney‘s refreshingly frank remarks at the CMA Awards in telling fellow competitors to “Come and get me” after winning the entertainer of the year award for the fourth time. “But to those other four acts that are nominated, I’m not just going to lay down, either,” he said. “I love what I’m doing, and I love doing it from the heart with the passion, commitment and sacrifice that it takes to do this. These aren’t given away. These aren’t free. It’s a very humbling thing to stand up here and hold this for the fourth time.”
• Kathy Mattea‘s Coal album. For many years, Mattea has been one of music’s least-heralded but most talented singers and songwriters. Before the mainstream labels dispatched her years ago to the legacy bins, she was a charting country star. Musically, she still is. Coal is a masterful ode to the coal-mining region of West Virginia that’s her childhood home.
• Miranda Lambert on the CMA Awards show singing a stripped-down and plaintively effective version of “More Like Her.” Lambert is a refreshingly no-nonsense singer and songwriter who does her bidness her way and doesn’t need any of your crap.
• Randy Travis‘ album Around the Bend. The song “From Your Knees” is a knock-you-down stunner, but I think the real sleeper on the album is the much more subtle cut “Dig Two Graves.” And it’s totally in keeping with Travis’ moribund song tradition (remember “Three Wooden Crosses”?). Sometimes nothing can make you feel better than the saddest of sad, but inspirational, songs.
• Patty Loveless reminds one and all that country music is sometimes very rich, indeed. Her Sweet Dreams is a stunning collection.
• Watching new duo Dailey & Vincent inject fresh energy into bluegrass music.
• Seeing Colbie Caillat sing up close and personal. I already knew that she’s a very effective songwriter, but to watch her singing from a few feet away is to witness and hear a wonder of vocal phrasing. I was following a couple of her songs while looking at lyric sheets, and it was as if she were taking those words off the paper and singing them in her own personal language. And then, as if all that weren’t enough, she delivered a powerfully understated version of the song that persuaded her as a child to seek a musical career: “Killing Me Softly.”
• J.D. Souther’s remarkable album, If the World Was You. A major architect of Southern California country-rock comes back after 24 years with a complex album that defies easy description.
• Shooter Jennings‘ heartfelt tribute to his father with the album Waylon Forever. In finishing some of his father’s incomplete tracks with his own band, the .357s, Shooter brought some of Waylon’s unfinished legacy into the modern age.
• Hank Williams still rules. His Mother’s Best radio recordings from 1951 sound crisp and relevant and make it seem like he’s still around.
• Lee Ann Womack comes back with a total smack-down album, Call Me Crazy, that reminds people of what a great singer she can be.
• Watching Randy Houser as a virtually unknown country singer debut his single “Anything Goes” on the David Letterman show was remarkably refreshing. And I was very glad that Letterman booked Jamey Johnson to sing his landmark song, “In Color.”
• The Musicians Union induction awards show in Nashville. Encountering the likes of Percy Sledge, Keith Richards, Booker T. and Kid Rock in the hallways of the Schermerhorn is not something you do every night.
• Bob Dylan‘s show on satellite radio. Who knew he could be so corny and funny? And of course music-savvy, in a deep-catalog way.
• Roger Alan Wade’s video, “The Last Time I Saw Waylon Jennings,” on the CMT.com blog. It’s not polished and slick. But it is incredibly from the heart and rings true for two or three generations of staunch Waylon fans. This is the way great country used to sound. Good for Johnny Knoxville to produce this.
• One of the most soulful singers I have ever known, Doug Sahm, has a recorded tribute coming soon. I’ve heard some of it and I’m pleased that he may finally get a little recognition. Look for Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm on Vanguard. He was on the cover of Rolling Stone twice. Bet you never heard of him.
• Finally, to scorch your already fried brains, here’s an item from the London Times about a new luxury hotel in Dubai for the rich: “Versace, the renowned fashion house, is to create the world’s first refrigerated beach so that hotel guests can walk comfortably across the sand on scorching days. The beach will be next to the new Palazzo Versace hotel which is being built in Dubai where summer temperatures average 40C and can reach 50C.”